I never really considered the question of our boys earlier as like everyone else, I was in the Beti padao beti bachao mode! This changed when I was looking at the list of doctors selected for government jobs: There were more Ladakhi girls than boys on it. This got me thinking. Most offices in Leh seem to be dominated by women. Generally, the few males present perform lower-level jobs like say a security guard or a driver. While I respect all jobs, it does make you wonder about our boys!
I decided to do a headcount in the two offices to which I have easy access: SNM Hospital, Leh and Sub District Hospital, Nubra. I found that a majority of the staff are women. There were 285 females and 70 males in the staff at SNM, while the number of doctors is equal at 25 each. In SDH, Nubra, we have 62 females and 28 males in the staff, and four of the seven doctors are female. In addition, three other lady-doctors look after other parts of Nubra in Panamik, Turtuk, and Bogdang.
So where are all the men? This question sounds logical in a district headed by two women officers. The Deputy Commissioner and the SSP are both successful lady officers. In January, a Ladakhi girl lead India’s first daredevil biker’s group at the Republic Day parade in New Delhi. The Indian women’s ice hockey team, which is made up of Ladakhis, has started creating waves at different levels. The sex ratio in India is mostly skewed in favour of males and even in Ladakh the number of males is slightly higher than females.
Girls are taught to be independent from an early age. They are expected to help in the kitchen and with household chores, while boys are excluded from these ‘un-manly’ tasks. In most societies, girls are expected to stay indoors, while boys are allowed to roam about! Girls in Ladakh grow up in an insecure environment, which seems to work in their favour. Parents advise them to study even as they pamper the boys. Girls are told from an early age that she will leave the parents’ house and all that she will get is a perak, while her brother will live in the family house!
In Ladakh, many people own hotels and guest houses, and boys are expected to run the family business if he doesn’t get a job. The girl is expected to study well and move to her husband’s home after marriage. So the boys grow up with back up plans in the tourist industry, the army, and the family business. For girls, their plan A has to work! This sense of exclusion seems to be working in favour of our girls as they have to fight various odds and stay focused. They grow up to become confident and self-reliant young ladies. And when they go outside Ladakh to study or work, they go as independent individuals who can sustain and manage themselves well. The boys, on the other hand, become proud after learning to cook instant noodles!
With access to work in the tourism sector and with the army, boys become accustomed to ‘easy money’ from an early age. Although many of them do become independent and mature adults, many become addicted to drugs, alcohol and sex. In many cases, financial independence makes them vulnerable to addictive use of gadgets and consumption of pornography from an early age. They in turn cause harm to others in their peer group.
So where are our men? Most Ladakhi men are successful businessmen, politicians, hoteliers, entrepreneurs, and soldiers. Yet, many others are plagued by bankruptcy, alcoholism, substance addiction, and hooliganism and are considered to be threats to society. More recently, we have started hearing of various crimes being committed by Ladakhis, which we would blame on outsiders earlier. Most of these crimes are being committed by Ladakhi boys who are unemployed or doing petty jobs. We urgently need to help our boys. Our girls seem to be on the right track! We need to ensure that our boys grow up to become independent and self-reliant individuals. We need to ensure that they follow the lead of our girls to complete their studies. Parents must always treat their children equally and never discriminate between them. We must take our sons to the kitchen and have them help in preparing food and cleaning dishes. They must be taught to clean their room, wash dishes, and clothes. I say, “Save the boy child, the girls are shining. Beta bachao, beta padao!”
Editor’s note: This article was originally written and published in 2018
By Dr. Spalchen Gonbo
Dr. Spalchen Gonbo is a Paediatrician based in Leh.